Travelers can be reassured that flying is both safe and secure. I was reminded of all the efforts that go into keeping it that way during a visit to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) last week. It was also clear that there is much more to do.
There are great expectations for ICAO’s Global Aviation Security Plan—also known as GASeP—to provide a framework for governments around the world to improve security measures in line with global standards.
Governments have the primary responsibility for the security of their citizens—including when they are flying. Along with the provisions of Annex 17, GASeP should enhance the ability of states to fulfill that responsibility even more comprehensively.
Cooperation will be the key ingredient to making GASeP work. Cooperation on capacity-building is the only way to ensure that all governments can meet their obligations to global standards. Equally important is the need to vastly improve information sharing—not just between a state and its airlines, but among states. On this, there is a huge gap that can only be covered with much greater ambition by governments.
Of course the aviation industry itself has a vital role to play in helping governments to keep passengers and crew secure. But only governments have the resources to fully take-on the heavy lifting needed in response to time-sensitive threats.
That principle was emphasized in UN Security Council Resolution 2309. It confirmed the responsibility of governments with their powerful resources to take the lead in securing the freedom of movement made possible by the world’s air transport system. And it called for coordinated action to tackle emerging threats.
Earlier this year we saw examples of governments taking the lead on security enhancements with little coordination or information sharing. That, of course, was the ban on laptops in the cabin invoked by the US and UK authorities on some flights. This threw parts of the industry into chaos, inconvenienced passengers and created a safety risk by piling randomly packed lithium batteries in the cargo hold. I would also say that it was hard to see any positive security outcome from its short-lived implementation.
It was when governments opened a process of consultation with the global industry that more effective and customer-friendly alternative measures were proposed. And I believe that the implementation of the first wave of these measures, largely driven by the US, is having a real and positive impact on improving aviation security.
But there is an issue brewing with the second wave implementation. It is a major piece of work and the burden to do this is being disproportionately placed on airlines. Why? Because that is how the US authorities gain the most leverage on what happens at airports outside their domain. Airlines need access to the US to meet market demands. So they are working hard to meet the requirements in a short space of time. And in doing so they are taking on responsibilities that should belong to governments which have the skills, intelligence support and resources to do them much more effectively.
The US requirements comply with the spirit of UNSC2309. But the implementation is setting an unhelpful precedent. Placing the major burden on airlines weakens the global system by not paying enough attention to issues that truly can only be handled by governments—insider threat and landside security among them. This approach is not sustainable in the long-run. Governments must fulfill their responsibilities.
Everyone looks forward to the publication of GASeP in December this year as an opportunity to achieve the coordinated approach that UNSC2309 seeks. Over the next months, it will be important to align the US-required enhancements with the work of the GASeP. This will remind all governments that global standards are the way to keep flying secure and that implementation is primarily their responsibility—supported by ICAO’s leadership and oversight, and with industry cooperation.
At the same time we must all recognize that GASeP is not a panacea. It will set the global direction but will not supersede state sovereignty. So states need to fully feel the weight of their responsibility to protect the security of 4 billion travelers each year and work through ICAO to make sure that the global system works.
We all want flying to be secure. It is not a competition. The best way to achieve it is with government leadership, cooperation, information sharing and global standards.